Geez Dude…Lighten Up!
By Jim Kuiken
I had planned on a bit more light-hearted post this week with another of the often-requested “Frontline Tales” about interesting or funny things that have happened to / with me on the street or in the field during my career as a Firefighter/EMT, Law Enforcement Officer/Agent, or as a Marine – but last week got in the way. It’ll have to wait for next week.
This week’s post is all about last week, and what it means to our Country and its Citizens and Legal Residents, to the Military and Veterans, and to me and mine. It got up-close and personal.
August 7th is the anniversary of the date that General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, established the Badge of Military Merit (predecessor to the Purple Heart Medal) in 1782.
Each year on that date, we celebrate National Purple Heart Day (also known as Purple Heart Appreciation Day, and Purple Heart Recognition Day), an “unofficial observance”, i.e., businesses and government agencies do not officially close on this day – to commemorate the over 1.8 MILLION American men and women who have been wounded or killed while serving in defense of our freedom since the start of World War I.
I’ve never celebrated this observance publicly…usually I just keep my mouth shut, and raise a scotch, late in the evening, in a toast to my buddies and fellow Purple Heart recipients (who received it while alive – or posthumously). My toast is always the same.
"Here's tae us. Wha's like us? Damn few, and they're a'deid." (Robert Burns)
Roughly translated, that means “Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damned few, and they’re all dead.” It is a toast given by those who survive battle, to fellow survivors…and to those who did not. Perfect toast for those wearing the Purple Heart medal on that day.
This year was different. I celebrated publicly, in the company of many other Recipients, their families, and supporters of those who paid the cost of Freedom with their health, their blood, or their lives.
Here’s how the week went…
Tuesday August 7th:
Just like every other year, some private time commemorating those who sacrificed and those who fell, with a “wee dram” (or two) of scotch, and “the toast”.
Friday August 10th:
6pm - A wreath laying at (and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the laying of) the Purple Heart Monument – and the origin (mile-marker zero) of the Virginia Purple Heart Trail, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
7pm – A private evening tour of George and Martha Washington’s home at the Mount Vernon estate, for Purple Heart recipients and their families.
Saturday August 11th – the crowning highlight of the week:
10am – A gathering, then ceremony with staff and leadership of Mount Vernon, and fellow members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the estate's official National Purple Heart Day Ceremony on the East Lawn overlooking the Potomac River. We were treated to some great music leading up to the ceremony, and later during the posting of the Colors, the National Anthem, by the U.S. Marine Corps Band Brass Quintet.
The highlight of the program was our keynote speaker, highly acclaimed American author Patrick K. O'Donnell, who told us a riveting recollection of his time embedded with the U.S. Marines in combat, and the incredibly heroic but devastating story of one young Marine that he served with.
In addition, PH Recipients from each war from WWII to modern day were called upon to rise (as their war(s) were called out) and be recognized for their sacrifice. It was very moving to see these surviving warriors standing proudly, recognized by their peers.
And more than one speaker (both Friday night and Saturday morning) talked about the medal itself…the shape like a heart – both the original Badge of Military Merit and the Purple Heart Medal. General George Washington understood service, and sacrifice for the greater good. As I’ve said before in my “Quotes” post,
“Courage knows no gender. Courage knows no race. Courage comes from within, from a deeply ingrained sense of duty, from service to something bigger than just yourself…from love.” (James Kuiken)
That’s why he designed the original Badge, and why the Medal that came from that, are both shaped like a heart. Service to something greater than yourself – to your country, to your fellow combatant, to anyone – comes from love.
1pm – A private reception for Recipients, their families and guests, and chance to mingle and talk with some true heroes…and do what military and veterans do when they come together…give each other a hard time and just have fun!
So while the final reception was a chance to let our hair down and just have fun, the most part of the week was spent in remembrance and celebration of those who stepped up when so many step away. And who paid the price.
The funny thing is, they all just looked like regular folks. Guys and gals, lots of older folks, and a few who looked like teen-agers. You just never know…